Documents hint at wider conspiracy in Delaware courthouse shooting

Thomas Matusiewicz, who killed his ex-daughter-in-law, her friend, and himself. Court documents suggest the killings were the result of a long-running custody fight.
Thomas Matusiewicz, who killed his ex-daughter-in-law, her friend, and himself. Court documents suggest the killings were the result of a long-running custody fight.
Posted: February 15, 2013

As police continue to investigate Monday's shootings in a Delaware courthouse, court documents suggest a wider conspiracy in the death of Christine Belford, who police say was gunned down by her ex-father-in-law as a result of a long-running child custody dispute.

Belford, 39, had gone to New Castle County Court in Wilmington for a child-support hearing when she and a friend were shot dead by Thomas Matusiewicz, 68, who exchanged fire with Capitol Police before taking his own life.

According to a search warrant for Matusiewicz's Texas home, Belford's ex-husband and his mother are "suspected of intentionally and knowingly participating" in Belford's killing.

The search warrant, as reported by the Associated Press, describes video that shows Thomas Matusiewicz and son David hugging in the courthouse lobby before the shooting. Delaware State Police said Tuesday that the two entered the courthouse together and that David went through security while his father lingered in the lobby for more than 30 minutes, waiting for Belford.

According to the search warrant, handwritten "death certificates" for Belford and her lawyer, Timothy Hitchings, were found on Matusiewicz's body. Belford had decided she could represent herself at Monday's hearing, and instead brought her close family friend, Laura Mulford, 47.

"Leading up to Monday's hearing date, we exchanged several e-mails, some related to her case, others not. I asked her again if she wanted me there and she declined," Hitchings wrote.

Hitchings would not comment on the threat to his life, citing the ongoing investigation.

David Matusiewicz's parental rights were terminated in 2011 while he was serving a prison sentence for kidnapping their three daughters and taking them to Central America.

Immediately after the shooting, he was held on an alleged probation violation. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, but it was unclear whether details of the shooting would be discussed there, as the violations filed Monday were unrelated to the shooting.

Matusiewicz's mother, Lenore, served 18 months in jail for helping in the kidnapping, and on Tuesday a Family Court judge ordered her to stay at least 1,000 feet away from her grandchildren and have no direct or indirect contact with them.

"The children are safe," Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said Tuesday. "We sought this no-contact order because we believe Lenore Matusiewicz is a danger to the children and should not have any contact with them. Her actions over the past five years have given us serious concern that she poses a risk to the children's safety."

Jim Woods, a lawyer who has known Belford for years and represented her in a lawsuit against the Matusiewiczes, said that when he heard about Belford's death, he instantly thought of "her poor daughters."

"I don't know what's going to become of them," said Woods, adding that he had often met with Belford in her home and observed her interactions with her daughters. "She was a very nice person, very likable and obviously a very caring and devoted mom."

In the lawsuit, Belford sought damages from her ex-husband, his parents, and his sister for emotional distress and personal injury related to the kidnapping. The ordeal had gone on for 19 months before the girls were found with their father and grandmother in a filthy trailer in Nicaragua. David and Lenore had told the girls - ages 5, 4, and 2 at the time - that their mother was dead.

But with David Matusiewicz in jail and his parents filing for bankruptcy, Woods said, "it became obvious that even the substantial judgment she should have gotten would have been uncollectible."

Belford dropped the suit in 2011.

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, or follow on Twitter @JS-Parks.

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